Texas Medical Center

Health Informatics Careers Skyrocket as Affordable Care Act Kicks In



By Rob Cahill  |  The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston

As the Affordable Care Act moves forward, along with its requirement that patients’ records be converted from paper to electronic, Texas is estimated to need an additional 10,000 health information technology workers by the end of the year.

Another report suggests that health informatics jobs are expected to grow by 36 percent over the next four years.

“Caregivers are going to have to deal with electronic health records. It is not a question of if, but when,” said Susan Fenton, Ph.D., assistant professor at The University of Texas Health Science Center’s School of Biomedical Informatics. “There is a tsunami of information out there. You can ride the wave or wipe out.”

From left, Susan Fenton, Ph.D., an assistant professor at UTHealth’s School of Biomedical Informatics, poses with graduate students Ruth Ungerer, and Gwendolyn Brobbey, M.D., who are graduating this fall with master’s degrees in health informatics.

At the school – the only free-standing school of biomedical informatics in the nation – dentists, doctors and nurses, security analysts, pharmacists, salespeople, attorneys, programmers and others are working toward graduate degrees and certifications in health informatics, to get the training they need to enter this burgeoning field. Pediatrician Gwendolyn Brobbey, M.D., and registered nurse Ruth Ungerer are among those enrolled. Both graduate this month with a Master of Science in Health Informatics degree, with a focus in applied health informatics – a 36-hour program.

Brobbey is pursuing a position in clinical informatics, where health information technology will be applied in clinical situations.

“I could see myself training other doctors in electronic health records,” said Brobbey, who currently serves as a substitute doctor for physicians taking time away from their practices.

She also hopes to work with information technology professionals as a physician with a “trained eye” when using electronic health records for patient care and for quality assurance.

Brobbey said the benefits of electronic health records for doctors include features such as e-alerts and e-prescribing, which can help clinicians avoid or minimize the chance that their patients might suffer adverse drug interactions.

The benefits of electronic health records for patients include the ability to interact with their health care providers using a computerized patient-access portal, Brobbey said. Imagine a scenario in which a person with Type 2 diabetes monitors his or her blood glucose at home and transmits results to a health care provider. This would allow the provider to access the patient’s results, and assess how well the patient is managing his or her blood sugar levels.

Ungerer enrolled in the program shortly after completing the RN to BSN/MSN program at The University of Texas School of Nursing at Houston.

“It seemed like a great opportunity to be a part of this quickly evolving field,” she said. “Nothing happens in health care without information.”

As for her career plans, Ungerer said, “I am definitely open to the possibilities that present themselves, but my personal area of interest is Medicare fraud and abuse prevention. I am also interested in promoting the safety aspects of electronic health records. This field needs standardized regulations that are industry wide.”

Career opportunities in the health information technology field include clinical application specialists, clinical decision support analysts and electronic health information specialists. Other jobs include health information supervisors and managers, auditors and compliance review staff, and clinical documentation and improvement specialists.

“Health information technology as an industry has been growing at double-digit rates for the past several years,” said Jiajie Zhang, Ph.D., dean of the School of Biomedical Informatics. “Accompanying the rapid adoption of information technology in health care is the exponential growth of genomic, clinical and health data, which are essential for increasing the quality, efficiency and safety of patient care and for making new biomedical discoveries. Texas needs thousands of well-trained, new health information technology professionals today.”

According to a Health Information Management and Systems Society 2012 Salary Survey, the median annual base pay for health care information technology staffers was $83,000 last year, Fenton said.

For more information about the graduate program in health informatics, visit https://sbmi.uth.edu or contact Juliana Brixey, Ph.D., Applied Health Informatics program director, at 713-500-3643.